When hosting an online session, I invariably get questions from newcomers asking the best way to make their particular commute. Say, from Bethesda or Laurel to Old Town Alexandria. And in turn, a half-dozen readers will offer their suggestions. Who better to offer commuting tips than those who, by trial and error, have figured out the best way?
So, I thought there must be a way to put readers in touch with each other, for local commutes and out-of-town trips. A reader asks a question online, and another provides an answer. They can communicate directly with each other to refine directions.
So, with the help of the folks at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline, we have set up a free Dr. Gridlock message board at www.washingtonpost.com/gridlock (click on "Reader Forum"), where readers can communicate directions with one another without having to go through me.
We tried it for Thanksgiving travel. Some posters asked about the usefulness of taking U.S. Route 301 on the east (less congested), or Interstate 66 on the west, as alternatives to the creep-and-crawl of Interstate 95 between the Capital Beltway and Fredericksburg. (I try to stay away from that stretch of I-95 at all costs).
I often advise readers on the western side of the District to take I-66 west to the Route 29 exit at Gainesville in Prince William County. Follow Route 29 south, past Warrenton, to a crossroad called Opal (a Sheetz gas station is on the corner) and turn left onto Route 17 east.
After about 25 miles, approaching Fredericksburg, traffic lines up in the right lane to get onto I-95 south. Here's where a reader named Sam offered help in the Reader Forum:
"The traffic at the southbound I-95 entrance from Route 17 is almost always backed up for 10-15 minutes. To avoid it, get on I-95 north, then immediately take the Route 17 north exit, and then immediately take the I-95 south exit. By doing this you've basically gone around the clover leaf in about 45 seconds versus waiting in the Route 17 south line for I-95 south for 10 or 15 minutes.
"Trust me on this. I use this shortcut to get to Fredericksburg all the time."
Count Dr. Gridlock as among the cattle regularly caught in the long backup onto I-95 south. I'll try your shortcut. Thanks, Sam.
That's how the forum can work. I'd like some feedback on the concept and the format. Send it to my e-mail address: email@example.com. Help us help you.
Life in the Slow Lane
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am a conservative driver, usually going the speed limit or only slightly above it. I normally stay in the far right lane, allowing maniacs and others to pass at their pleasure.
However, there are times when I need to get into the fast lane to make a left turn. I can tell that I have irritated all the fast guys. They pass me on the right and swing back in front of me because they cannot wait to go 20 miles above the speed limit again.
What should I do when I need to get into the left lane?
Start merging left well before your turn. You may have to increase your speed to the prevailing traffic flow to make lane changes and to drive in the fast lane. Even so, you may have the usual mob passing you anyway, maybe making gestures, cutting you off and honking. Put on your left-turn signal well before the turn, and maybe they'll back off a little.
If you are often encountering this problem at the same intersection, look for another route.
Isn't it amazing the difficulty one encounters around here just trying to obey the speed limit?
Dr. Gridlock's Wish List
Dr. Gridlock is soliciting two types of letters for the December and New Year's holidays:
First, I'd like to hear how a good Samaritan helped you on our local transportation system (such as on Metro or on our roadways).
Second, I'd like to hear your New Year's resolutions for our local transportation officials. Such as, "The District should resolve to aggressively ticket vehicles illegally parked in a lane of traffic during rush hours."
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers.